The Yellow WallpaperThe Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, is a story told from the first person point of view of a doctor’s wife who has nervous condition. The first person standpoint gives the reader access only to the woman’s thoughts, and thus, is limited. The limited viewpoint of this story helps the reader to experience a feeling of isolation, just as the wife feels throughout the story. The point of view is also limited in that the story takes places in the present, and as a result the wife has no benefit of hindsight, and is never able to actually see that the men in her life are part of the reason she never gets well. This paper will discuss how Gilman’s choice of point of view helps communicate the central theme of the story- that women of the time were viewed as being subordinate to men. Also, the paper will discuss how ignoring oneself and one’s desires is self-destructive, as seen throughout the story as the woman’s condition worsens while she is in isolation, in the room with the yellow wallpaper, and her at the same time as her thoughts are being oppressed by her husband and brother.
In the story, the narrator is forced to tell her story through a secret correspondence with the reader since her husband forbids her to write and would ?meet [her] with heavy opposition? should he find her doing so (390). The woman’s secret correspondence with the reader is yet another example of the limited viewpoint, for no one else is ever around to comment or give their thoughts on what is occurring. The limited perspective the reader sees through her narration plays an essential role in helping the reader understand the theme by showing the woman’s place in the world. At the time the story was written, women were looked down upon as being subservient beings compared to men. No matter what a woman did or thought, she was still seen as the lesser of the sexes.
Like the narrator, women of that time were directed to suppress their creativity as it threatened the dominating male’s sense of control. By having the narrator be forced to write in secret, There comes John, and I must put this away — he hates to have me write a word, Gilman was able to show that even the simplest things, like wanting to write were forbidden, lest the male approved (392). Prohibited from working and not being able to contribute to the household as a proper wife, the narrator begins to feel helpless: So I? am absolutely forbidden to ?work’ until I am well again. Personally, I disagree with their ideas (390). The narrator’s husband and brother both exert their own will over hers, forcing her to do what they think is the appropriate behavior for a sick woman. She has been given a schedule[d] prescription for each hour in the day; [John] takes all care from me (391). The way that she is required to act involves practically no exertion of her own free-will. Instead, she is expected to obediently accept the fact that her own ideas are mere fancy, and only the opinions of the men in her life can be trusted. The fact that she is not allowed to think for herself is narrowing the extent of her authority in her life and of her autonomy.
With no creative outlet her mind starts to find things upon which to dwell, things that only she can see. Virtually imprisoned in her bedroom, supposedly to allow her to rest and recover, she slowly starts to go insane. Without compassion or an outlet for her creativity, her mind turns inward and focuses on her now increasingly shrinking universe. She has no say in the location or the decor of her room: I don’t like our room a bit. . . But John would not hear of it (391). She is not allowed visitors: It is so discouraging not to have any advice and companionship . . . but he says he would as soon put fireworks in my pillow-case as to let me have those stimulating people about now (393). In large part because of this oppression, that John offhandedly bestows, both her mental and physical conditions continue to decline. I don’t feel as if it was worthwhile to turn my hand over for anything and I’m getting dreadfully fretful and querulous (394). But by keeping her a prisoner in a room with offensive wallpaper and very little to occupy her mind, John almost forces her to dwell on her psyche. Prison is supposed to be depressing, and she is pretty close to being a prisoner. The story does hint to the fact that John knows he could have done more but simply does not seem to want to be bothered with the effort of such an endeavor for his wife. He never acknowledges that she has a real problem until the end of the story- at which time he fainted. Perhaps, if she had been allowed to come and go, and do as she pleased her depression might have lifted: I think sometimes that if I were only well enough to write a little it would relieve the press of ideas and rest me (393). It seems to her that just being able to tell someone how she really feels would have eased her depression, but her husband would not hear of it because of the embarrassing consequences it could bring to the family name. Thus, John has made her a prisoner in their marriage where her opinions are pushed aside, and her self-worthiness questioned. It is her inner conflict however, that is the predominant reason that she goes crazy. Blaming John and his actions toward her, is just a simple excuse for her inability to get well. She does not want to admit to herself, that perhaps, John doesn’t know what the right treatment for someone in her condition is, and the fact that she never inquires upon the treatment John prescribes, further proves the deterioration of her psyche.
Never do we observe any of the other characters’ points of view. Gilman purposely does this so that the reader is called to rely solely upon the woman, even when her mental condition worsens. The narrator is required to seek and receive advice from those around her instead of making up her own mind, since she is not given the opportunity to interact with anyone aside from those who restrict her. This further contributes to the central theme in that it shows that woman clearly cannot think for herself and must rely on others’ opinions of how she should conduct herself. John wished for the woman to simply ignore her own thoughts and to whatever he asked of her. It was impossible for her to do this and survive, since ignoring oneself is obviously self-destructive.
Gilman shows through the diary type format of the story, a sort of desperation of the narrator. Gilman wants the reader to see just how oppressed the woman truly is and how her mental condition deteriorates, by allowing the reader to see what she is thinking. Her assertion at the conclusion of the story that I have got out at last is ironic, because although she now has the opportunity to physically get out of the prison-like room and try the cure that she prescribed for herself, she chooses to ignore it (401). She has become a complete burden to John, though her original goal was to become such a help to John (392). She has discovered the one place where she can have supreme control, and nothing will challenge her, apart from her own mind. But she has zero capability left to even interact normally with the outer physical world, and so it is although she isn’t even there.
Throughout the story, the reader is called to trust the narrator although it is clear she is going crazy, for she is the only telling the story. Gilman is able to develop the theme through this character’s point of view by showing that the narrator has no choice in the world in which she lives– she must obey the men in her life above all else. If Gilman chose any other perspective, the story would not have been able to portray the woman’s oppression as well, because the reader would not have been able to see into her mind as it slipped away well into insanity.